Talking with Your Doctor About Clinical Trials – Where to Start

If you have received a breast cancer diagnosis, your doctor may mention a clinical trial as a part of your treatment options. Clinical trials are a useful tool for researchers to learn more about current and innovative treatments in hopes to improve future treatment care. Individuals are living longer lives from successful cancer treatments as a result of past clinical trials. Therefore, it is recommended to ask your doctor questions in order to determine if a clinical trial is right for you. To help get you started - we asked a Radiation Oncologist with the RadComp Study and an advocacy partner to share their thoughts on what you should know when considering a clinical trial.

Advice from a Radiation Oncologist

If your doctor has not already offered the opportunity to participate in a clinical trial, feel free to ask him/her yourself during your appointment.Dr. Mark Mishra, a radiation oncologist at University of Maryland-Baltimore, highlights a few questions he encourages patients to ask their doctor when considering a clinical trial:

●      What are my treatment options?

●      Which treatment do you think is best for me?

●      Should I consider a clinical trial? If so, are there any clinical trials I’m eligible for?

●      How do I know if a clinical trial is a good option for me?

These questions can help to start a discussion with your doctor about if a clinical trial may be a good fit for you.

Advice from Breast Cancer Advocates

SHARE, an advocacy organization providing support to those facing breast and ovarian cancers, offered their take on this subject. SHARE advocates for consideration of clinical trials early on in the treatment process.

From their experience, SHARE wishes to address common misconceptions about clinical trials that may make people hesitate to enroll: 1. Belief that participating in a clinical trial means getting only a placebo instead of treatment, 2. being treated like a guinea pig, and 3. that clinical trials are only last resort options for people whose treatments have failed. None of these statements are true. All women who participate in clinical trials receive treatment, and patient protections ensure participants are treated with dignity and quality care.

Far from being a last resort, clinical trials can sometimes be a good first-line treatment option, since some standard of care treatments can make patients ineligible for trials later on.

Questions to Ask Your Doctor

When presented with the option to participate in a clinical trial, here are some additional questions you can ask your doctor:

About the Study
  • What is being studied?
  • Why do researchers believe the intervention being tested might be effective? Has it been tested before?
  • What are the possible treatments that I might receive during the trial?
  • How will it be determined which interventions I receive (for example, by chance)?
  • How can I prepare beforehand?
  • How long will the study last?
Risks and Benefits
  • What are the possible benefits to participating in this trial?
  • What the possible risks or side effects of this trial?
  • What are the short and long-term benefits of this trial?
  • What other options do people with my condition have?
  • What are my options if I am injured during the study?
Clinical Care During Trial
  • Who will oversee my medical care while I am participating in a trial?
  • What tests and procedures are involved?
  • Will hospitalization be required?
  • How often will I have to visit the hospital or clinic?
Payments & Expenses
  • Who will pay for my participation?
  • Will I have to pay for any part of the clinical trial, such as study tests or the study drug?
  • Will I be reimbursed (paid-back) for other expenses?

Want to Talk to Someone?

For more information about clinical trials and to talk to a breast cancer survivor who has participated in a clinical trial -  call SHARE’s breast cancer helpline at 844.ASK.SHARE. Helpline peers can help prepare questions to ask your doctor, think through your priorities, and sort through trial options with you.

SHARE also offers a free, confidential, and secureclinical trial matching service, powered by EmergingMed, that matches users to clinical trials to which they qualify.

TheRadComp Trial is grateful to have breast cancer survivors, advocacy organizations, such as SHARE, and leading radiation oncologists nationwide work alongside us to design and conduct this trial. To learn more - visit ourFAQ Page for answers to commonly asked questions about our study.

Author: Chinwe Ebonine & Nirmen Mahal, PATIENTS Program / Melissa Sakow, SHARE Cancer Support / Dana Goodlett, RadComp Trial